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Facing Failure in Dietetics

This post is part of the "Dear Undergrad Aly" section of my blog. The "Dear Undergrad Aly" series is a collection of posts on things I wish I knew before becoming a dietitian, and hopefully are relevant to your journey to becoming a nutrition professional...think of them as "not-so-sappy" but informative love letters to my past self.

A very tired, first year Aly stand in her empty dorm with a stripped body pillow in hand.

First year was tough. It was a year of growth, development, hardship, and failure.

Yes, I said it...the dreaded F word. The word that a lot of dietetic students fear. As one of my favourite dietitians, Krista Kolodziejzyk puts it, we work in a field that breeds perfectionism, and I couldn’t agree more. 

When I was in first year, I had never heard of a student “failing” in dietetics. It wasn’t in our vocabulary. From day one, we were all groomed that we had to be good candidates for internship and masters programs if we wished to pursue a career in dietetics. And what did that entail? Achieving good grades and spending all our extra free time volunteering, joining extracurriculars, and gaining profound experiences. I had only ever heard of success stories of students landing their dream internship placements and going off to be great dietitians.

So when I failed first year chemistry, I thought that was all over.

I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. I had just completed my first year of university and had settled back into my childhood home. I was looking forward to having four glorious months off from school, and soaking in all the down time to enjoy my summer with close friends and family. 

That was until I opened up my grade book on my computer to see a failing grade staring right back at me. 

It had to be a mistake, I thought to myself. Nutrition students DON’T fail. I can’t fail. 

And from there the circling drain of negative thoughts prevailed - I am a failure. I will never be a dietitian. I’ve ruined my chances.

Now obviously that wasn’t the case. And I don’t share this story to say that I am an anomaly. Since graduating from undergrad, landing a spot in a masters program, and becoming a dietitian, I can confidently say that I have come across many, many dietetic students, interns, and dietitians who have hit a roadblock in their journey to become a dietitian. Whether that was failing chemistry or not getting into an internship program on the first try (or the second try) - we have all had a bump in our road. And I believe that speaks to the fact that success is rarely linear and no one is BY ANY MEANS perfect. 

Failing chemistry was hard and I cried A LOT, but it was also probably one of the greatest lessons I learned in my university career. It taught me to prioritize my weaknesses, reach out for help early, and ask questions. Had I not failed first year chemistry and just swept by with a passing grade, I would not have learned anything from it and would have struggled immensely in organic chemistry and biochemistry. 

I am not saying that you have to fail first year chemistry to become a dietitian (in fact, I highly recommend that you don’t do that and spare yourself the tears and anger that comes from it haha). What I am saying is that if you do see failure knocking, embrace it. Cry if you need to cry - a good cry is always welcomed. Learn from it. And more importantly know that it doesn’t define you and your path to success. 

Chemistry textbooks, notes, and tests lay on a grey bedding
I conquered CHEM 1302B!!!


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